Monday, June 02, 2008

Demo Leaflet #1

Today a Canadian writer is on trial
For writing an 'offensive' magazine article.

Is this the Canada you want? It's your freedom that is under attack

Today, a long established Canadian magazine, Maclean's, is being forced to answer charges that they have exposed Muslims in British Columbia to hatred and contempt, by publishing an article by Mark Steyn.

Maclean's and Steyn thought that in Canada they had a wide-ranging right to free expression. They thought they could publish an article discussing demographic change in Europe, and suggesting that it is not a good thing that Europe is becoming more Islamic.

They are being challenged by Mohammed Elmasry, who claims to speak on behalf of all Muslims in British Columbia. To launch a complaint under British Columbia's Human Rights Code, there is no cost. The BC taxpayer pays for the case against Maclean's; but Maclean's has to pay the full cost of its lawyers.

Maclean's is being attacked, but without the protections of due process that are enjoyed in regular courts of law. A human rights tribunal is more casual, but it can penalize harshly.

If a writer or publisher gets on the wrong side of human rights codes, he can be fined and ordered never again to publish on certain subjects; anyone breaking such a gag order, or refusing to pay a fine, can be found in contempt of court and imprisoned.

Here's what Section 7 of the BC Human Rights Code says (the federal law, Section 13, is almost identical):

(1) A person must not publish, issue or display, or cause to be published, issued or displayed, any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that
(a) indicates discrimination or an intention to discriminate against a person or a group or class of persons, or
(b) is likely to expose a person or a group or class of persons to hatred or contempt

because of the race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation or age of that person or that group or class of persons."

Read that carefully; how many writers do you know who might have exposed some religion, say, to the mere likelihood of someone's contempt? Isn't questioning religion, and the politics that go with it, the very basis of a free and democratic society, even for those of us who value faith?

A writer doesn't actually have to harm anyone to be told to shut up on a given topic for life; merely writing in a way that is "likely" to expose someone to hate or contempt, even if what you say is true, can get you silenced. Who decides what is "likely"? Some master of futurism? No such person exists; it's simply bureaucrats and possibly judges who decide.

The Problem

While our courts have tried to give a strict definition to the kind of writing "likely to expose a person or a group... to hatred or contempt", we have to ask if anyone can really be in a position to make such judgment. Doesn't such a law inherently politicize our judges and bureaucrats? All writers are critical of one thing or another. So doesn't such a law require a code of political correctness for judges to know which kind of critical writing is socially acceptable and which not? In fact, this is what we see happening in the actual application of the "human rights" laws. Certain groups in Canada are more protected than others, which has angered many.

Still, our governments have decided that in a multicultural society, there is too much risk of conflict and there have to be laws drawing a line between what people can and cannot say. And we are not just talking about the ordinary limits already covered by criminal and civil law, like the laws against hate speech and defamation. "Human rights" law targets speech more broadly.

Maybe you don't know any writers; maybe you don't care that it is no longer possible for writers in Canada to think freely without fearing that they are going to get on the wrong side of bureaucrats.

But even if you don't know any writers, and never speak in public, these "human rights" codes affect you. Any fears or limits that are put on what any of us can publicly debate in regard to the relationships of individuals and groups, but especially in regard to our ethical or religious beliefs, can greatly limit what kind of cultural evolution we will have. Our thinking and social development can become frozen in codes of politically-correct speech.

And a society that does not evolve through internal debate is at risk of ripping itself apart under the pressure of the resentments that develop in any relationship. Resentment is an inevitable part of life; it is the job of the writer to mediate this, so that we may have a way to talk through our problems instead of hiding from them, so that hidden problems don't one day rear up and bite us in the collective buttocks.

The function of the writer is under attack in Canada, because we have bought into the vain idea that we can somehow avoid conflict. We are told that we can bring all kinds of cultures into Canada and as long as everyone tones things down, peace and harmony will prevail. But, reality isn't like that. We have a moral and ethical obligation to interact with people, to come to terms over our differences, and thus develop the forms of reciprocity that can keep our society functioning. This sometimes takes blunt talk, occasionally even signs of contempt, and sometimes even signs of hate. Some difficult problems can only be addressed when we are capable of imagining the worst that humans can do to each other.

It is true that hateful writers can help cause evil; but resentment is inevitable and we only overcome it through the freedom to express and work through it, in free and open public debate. Freedom of expression is key to helping us defer actual violence. Violent talk is not a great thing, but it's often better than no talk. Ultimately, it is violent acts that must be punished, not the expression of feelings or thoughts.

What YOU can do:

Whether or not you know or like Mark Steyn's writing, whether or not you know or like the political activities of Mohammed Elmasry, is not the question we're raising today.

The question is whether we will continue to allow anyone's freedom to read, write, talk, or protest, to be limited by our present human rights codes.

We have to inform ourselves about how the human rights acts in Canada have been functioning. There is much discussion of this on the internet, at blogs like Free Mark Steyn!

The blog tells the story of that writer's experience with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, and his ongoing, often startling, revelations into the abuses of the "human rights" bureaucracies in Canada.

We urge you to learn about what is going on and to write or call your provincial and federal politicians, asking for a serious review of the human rights acts, especially as they relate to our fundamental human right and need to express ourselves, however we see fit.


Charles Henry said...

Anyone who wants to copy and print this out, is welcome to. We will bring a 100 to hand out Monday Morning. But the "trial" may well go all week.

Hat tip to Kathy Shaidle for the opening line.

Findalis said...

Wonderfully written. Too bad it will probably fall on deaf ears.